Tuesday, January 30, 2007

I want a name with a circular diacritic


I understand if I were on a Mac that would actually look real and be easy to do, but you know what? My ipod is a piece of crap, itunes is infuriatingly proprietary and makes me upgrade to a thousand features I won't use every few months, and their ads are smug in a way that rubs me wrong. So despite the fact I think identifying with macs OR PCs is a little loopy, I'm not rushing out and buying a Mac just so I can type diacritics. So there. Take that.

Oh, that's right. This is supposed to be about opera. Conveniently, I've just been to see the shockingly undersold revival of Jenufa at the Metrupulitan. Fuck, again that would only work with diacritics.

We're talking only-one-section-sold-out undersold. Big red stripes of velvet visible in prime orch. And this is odd considering Jenufa is from its first note to its last, operatic perfection. Now, I know. Aesthetics are subjective, no matter how many classes you took at Yale. No matter how much I hate it, The Piano is never going to be objectively a bad movie. But I can't shake the feeling, listening to it all these years, in a studio apartment with no furniture in Texas or a car driving between Ann Arbor and Detroit or half asleep with a fever in Brooklyn, that it is this chunk of Janacek's unconscious mind, where all art springs from (well not all art from his, but stick with me) lifted out into the light, without the translation that waters down most creative acts. The fun thing, as Jonathan pointed out, is that because it is thus, and because it's also in some way forbidding, the crowd you get is really invested in it. J says, in fact, and I'm wondering if he might post about this, that at intermission, you hear solitary opera fans, in line for a scotch, humming little hidden semi-melodies from the opera.

Like maybe Laca's confession to the foreman that he loves Jenufa, which is the first place in the evening my heart stopped. Yes, it is almost stupid how many good tenors the 'politan (oh, just for variety) has on its roster. A year ago, I casually told someone there were ten tenors singing there I'd be happy to hear any night, and when challenged, I rattled them off without too much thought. Some of them are duplicates in a sense--I'd love to hear Beczala again in Rigoletto. Or Villazon--and some have a niche. Jorma Silvasti is just a little bit special, I think. It's not just the fast vibrato, either. It's...what that you say? Shut up and tell you whether Silja sank or swam? Well, alright then. (But Silvasti, really. I'm telling you.)

Reactions were mixed when Silja was announced for this revival. Deborah Polaski, for one thing, was extremely "on" last time around, and though her voice is worn, she is not 400 years old like certain other people. Some ten years ago, when she was 390 but to be polite everyone was saying 389, Silja sang Act II with Roberta Alexander and the Philadelphia Orchestra at I think Carnegie, and it was (as termed by Dawn Fatale at intermission) "decrepit diva heaven." An unqualified success. Last night was not a succes d'estime. It was a triumph d'estime. You had to take it for what it was, and ignore the hollowness in the middle that made Auntie K's Act I parade-raining a largely visual affair. And yes, on those terms, Silja delivers 100% of the time, but this is opera and that ain't enough.

Perhaps she was husbanding her resources, and there are no rules against that. Act II was art without compromise. Squally? Of course. But she didn't duck a note or clip one short, and somehow she earned each wobble. That, taken with the fact that she's been singing the role since long before it was written, and taken with her exquisitely strange face, put it over in a way I'm pretty sure won't come across on Sirius. God knows it didn't on the Glyndebourne recording where the only thing that saved her from disgrace was Jerry Hadley, by comparison. But in the house, it was exactly right. There are other singers I'd like to hear have a go at it, and I'm looking forward to Forst and then to Malfitano in DC, but in the moment, she lacked nothing. There's no reason to record it. It was ephemeral, but beautiful. Ugly-beautiful.

You know what the thing that really cracks me up about Jenufa is? This production, I mean (since obviously the fun never stops in Preissova's bubbly comedy)? All the clothes on the floor. I'm not sure what it's supposed to represent, unless Oliver Tambosi is commenting on how I keep my apartment.* For that matter, I'm not sure about the big boulder either, but I don't object to it. It's a very, very pretty production and you'd have to be kind of a killjoy to begrudge it its inscrutable imagery. Who could fail to reach for a sweater when the house opens up to reveal the snow in Act II? Actually one thing that truly was funny: one line of the translation has the Kostenlicka telling Jenufa how much better it would all be if god would "take the child off your hands." Doesn't that sound kind of like they're at a swap meet or something? What IS a swap meet anyway? I've never known. But I'm certain that's how they talk there. Can I take that baby off your hands? I've got this swell rosemary plant filled with worms. I think they say "swell" a lot at swap meets, too.

Raymond Very was, oh Heather, so very. Which is to say Steva isn't the great role Laca is but he acquitted himself quite nicely, and can now change his name to Raymond Nicely. Barbara Dever got a pretty enthusiastic ovation, and why shouldn't she? On the merits of volume alone, she was topped only by...

Karita Mattila. Who is in bigger voice every time I hear her, especially Up There. That should be read with a suggestive lear, like the southern euphemism "Down There." I have a silly fantasy she could leapfrog certain other singers and be the next big deal dramatic after all, so solid has her voice become in every octave. I don't think it'll really happen, but if it does, you heard it prophesied here. Bear in mind she was on for Turandot for a while, then ditched it. For now, her brand of tightly wound sonic neurosis works very well indeed in Jenufa. I'm still holding out for Ariadne, but that's not going to stop me from going to most of the Jenufy. (Why do Czech conductors only do Janacek operas in the genitive pural? Because several are Jenuf. That used to be a joke about French chefs and eggs, and was the better for it.)

The conducting, eh, was not for me much of the time. Things were muted that I didn't want muted, especially in Act I. The ending, from "Odesli..." was happily luminescent, however.

(Oh and there was one little white slip I was hoping to see in the program, though I'm not sure whether the subject of that tiny piece of literature would have wanted to be there anyhow.)

*For the mental health mavens out there, this particular delusion is known as "Ideas of Reference." Which is also the name of one of my imaginary bands, in which I play gamelan flute and waterphone. My other imaginary band is called Bad Breast. Our lyrics are taken from the writings of Melanie Klein.


JSU said...

Html seems to call it a ring.

"I'm still holding out for Ariadne"

Me too, but the spring's other Jeritza part would be an event.

Maury D'annato said...

Helena? I know you're not much enamored of DV, but I think it's going to be a good part for her.

Gregory said...

Maury, maury.

You don't need a Mac to type diacriticals, and you don't need to memorize ALT+∞... (though it is easier if you have a Mac... drink the Kool-Aid, Maury. Drink the Kool-Aid.)

All you need to do is click your start menu, click run, and then type "charmap". A gazillion symbols for you to copy and past will be at your fingertips. Enjoy.

Or just buy a Mac.

Chalkenteros said...

I'm on for next week -- ugly beautiful huh? Hmm. I like that kind of purdy. But I'm a sicko.

jfmurray3 said...

There are so many things to say about last night's Jenufa. The conducting impressed me (I won't attempt to mar the conductor's name with my ignorance of how to type the appropriate diacritical marks - he shall henceforth be referred to as "Jiri B.".) I was struck by how much the MET orchestra enjoyed working with Jiri B. After the final chord, when Jiri B. was shaking the hand of the concertmaster, the winds were applauding him and had smiles wider than Silja's vibrato. Nearly the entire orchestra stayed for the curtain call - I thought to applaud Mattila - but their loudest applause and even foot-stomping was for Jiri B. at his curtain call.

I can't say enough about how wonderful Silvasti and Dever were. What will Silja sound like when she is past her prime? I think we still have a few more years to hear that. Karita Mattila is a spectacular singer and an accomplished actress - but the emotion she expressed by following her warmly received curtain call by impulsively embracing Anna Silja floored me. I felt priviliged to watch these two stars spontaneously embrace in a mutual celebration of their love of this opera. It was a scene scored by applause, shouts, and bravas.

Christopher said...

You don't even need to go to your Start Menu. Just go to Wikipedia and type in 'diacritical' and you'll get all the characters you need. Just copy and paste.

Ariadne said...

MÅ å Ů ů RY, dear! I love you. Your writing just slays me it's so funny/true!!!

If things go as planned, I'll get to see this production 2x. Once from a regular seat and once from the Score Desk. (With the score in my hand, of course, I'll get my fill of diacritical marks.) I'm so psyched!

(ps Does the little slip of paper appear when an understudy replaces someone?)

straussmonster said...

Mattila as Helena?

...that would be hot. I think she could pull off the combination of warmth and insanity that the part needs. I'm not quite as sure about that really mean high C#, but who knows?

meretrice i. d'oscena said...

Has Mattila sung anything that high in the studio?
I wish she would do a CD called 'The best bits from Roles I'll Probably Never Do'-- she could take a crack at Helena, Turandot, Minnie, Vanessa...

Remember those early-in-her-career recordings of Leontyne singing the Helena scene? Swoon.

ACB said...

(Are you really not sure, Maury? =])

Glad to hear that you're planning to see Forst's Kostenlicka, as well. She just about blew my mind with her performance in our Act II cover staging rehearsal. Talk about a masterclass in committment! I had goosebumps the size of that boulder...

Maury D'annato said...

Ack, my comment got eaten.

Well I was pretty sure, ACB, but I didn't want to presume!

My first experience of Forst was a Kat'a in Dallas that was quite intense. One scene blacked out on Forst with her cane raised to strike [name of character, memory lapse] who was clearly meant to be enjoying it. It was a moment that could go over the top but she pulled it off.

alex said...

Have you seen a youtube a kind, prolific poster has uploaded of Astrid Varnay singing the Kostelnicka? Figured this would be a fun place to mention it.


Hmm..I don't really remember too much of Helena (aside from being somewhat horrified/intrigued at my introduction to Gwyneth Jones' singing).

What I remember of the one time I saw Mattila in the house (Kat'a a couple years ago now?) is that the upper register had the most shine and body to it, but of course Kat'a isn't really asked to cut through orchestration, so I dunno if Mattila can or not [shrug]. I suppose it's also a ghost memory of mine that such cutting is required in Helena. Hm. I would totally go if she sang it, though.

Anonymous said...

Silja did not undersing/warmup/husband-her-resources in the first act to knock you out in the second act.

When I saw her do the second act of jenufa in Chicago last year, she sang it cold and still managed to wallop you with her infernal sound.

Maury D'annato said...

Anony: well, intentionally or not, yes: she did undersing. I don't think I'm alone in thinking so. I was worried her voice had shrunk, which turned out to be unfounded.

Burns said...

Another Jeritza role for Mattila to consider: Marietta in "Die Tode Stadt". They could do a whole Kim Novak "Vertigo" gloss on it. I can totally see Karita in vintage emerald shantung Dior.

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